Respectful Relationships at Work: An Effective Risk Management Tool
a review of Respectful Relationships by Sam Lloyd, MBA, Founder of Success Systems, Inc.
Available on Kindle
As noted psychologist Abraham Maslow once observed, “If your only tool is a hammer, you see every problem as a nail.” For the past five decades, and especially since the Civil Rights Act of 1991, we have asked lawyers to solve the psycho-social problems of discrimination, devaluation that turns into harassment/violence, workplace under-inclusiveness, and lack of opportunity for all. Lawyers have applied the only tools they’re taught—namely, the stick of increased regulation, damages, and penalties against employers. While institutionalizing workplace discrimination and harassment as legal problems that lawyers can solve, we have largely ignored other tools from other disciplines that can minimize the incidence of EEO claims, and promote opportunity and inclusiveness in our workplaces.
Thus, for many EEO practitioners (e.g., defense attorneys, in-house counsel, HR professionals), the connection between a “self-help” book about effective communication skills and protecting an organization against discrimination and harassment claims is probably not intuitive. Other disciplines (e.g., organizational psychology, advanced business management, and even social work), however, know that carrot motivates just as well as the stick. Instead of “we must sue to change hearts and minds,” the carrot encourages opportunity and inclusiveness because of the inherent rewards they bring employers; more about that later. Likewise, instead of relying on fear of the stick to foster effective, appropriate workplace communications (i.e., “don’t say that or you’ll get sued/fired”), Respectful Relationships is a carrot that teaches effective, appropriate workplace communications because of the inherent rewards it brings to managers and organizations.
Respectful Relationships tackles the problem of workplace discrimination and harassment at its most molecular level—the manner in which managers and employees communicate at work. As a former EEOC attorney and longtime litigator defending employers in EEO matters, I’ve never encountered any manager or employee who perceived his or her communications as intentionally offensive, disrespectful, harassing, and/or discriminatory, even when they created substantial risk for the employer. Nevertheless, employers are now paying record amounts–$365.4m in FY2012—to resolve discrimination and harassment disputes. Thus, while virtually all managers nowadays would sincerely deny any intent to discriminate, retaliate against or harass anyone, their workplace communications still expose employers to the ever-increasing incidence, risks and costs associated with EEO disputes, now at record levels.
Ultimately, EEO battles begin as workplace communication failures among managers, HR professionals, and employees. Accordingly, Respectful Relationships has incredibly broad application to the workplace, specifically to prevent or rehabilitate the kinds of communication problems that lead to employment litigation. Respectful Relationships should become required reading for anyone holding a management position and prescribed reading for HR executives and attorneys in organizations struggling with EEO charges. Most important, Respectful Relationships gives HR executives an effective tool to use once internal discrimination/harassment complaints have arisen, not only in their internal investigations, but also in fashioning remedies to end problematic conduct.
Respectful Relationships does an excellent job encapsulating complicated psychology concepts into a format that is readable, accessible, and enjoyable. Any reader, regardless of educational level, business experience or reason for purchasing, can learn and apply Respectful Relationships’ techniques in everyday communications. The positive response that these techniques elicit will further reinforce their use, thereby fostering more collegiality and less workplace conflict. In the end, employees will still sue their employers, but Respectful Relationships, as part of an overall litigation prevention strategy, goes a long way toward mitigating the risks and costs of EEO disputes.
Merrily S. Archer, Esq., M.S.W.
Founder, EEO Legal Solutions LLC